Philadelphia Business Journal | Peter Key | August 31, 2012
Millions of people enjoy using their smartphones to exchange text messages and pictures.
Law-enforcement personnel want to use them to exchange critical information — and a company based here is enabling them to do that.
Drakontas LLC recently raised $750,000 to help it take advantage of the market opportunities it sees for its mobile collaboration software. The company got $500,000 from a private sale of equity and was approved to receive a convertible debt investment of $250,000 from Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, a state-funded economic-development agency based in The Navy Yard.
Drakontas plans to use the money to add to its 10-person staff with hires in the technical, business-development and marketing areas.
Drakontas’ software is based on technology developed by two Drexel University researchers — Regli’s brother, William Regli, who is a computer science professor, and Moshe Kam, who heads the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
Nearly 10 years ago, the two got $4 million from the army to develop a system that provides secure, high-speed wireless data transmission and can be set up and maintained in an area with little or no communications infrastructure.
After Brian Regli and Sim formed Drakontas to commercialize the researchers’ technology, they spent a year talking to people in various industries to see which one made the most sense to market it in. They decided on the security industry and in 2005, Drakontas launched the first version of its flagship software, DragonForce. (Drexel’s mascot is a dragon and Drakontas is Greek for dragon.)
The first DragonForce deployment was at Drexel. An early version of the software, coupled with personal digital assistants with Global Positioning System receivers, enabled Drexel’s public-safety department to track the locations of its security officers on a campus map.
Today, DragonForce enables members of a mobile team to track their locations, coordinate tactics on shared whiteboards, capture and distribute images, share documents and files and securely exchange text messages on any devices that can access the Internet, including smartphones and tablet computers.
“You basically bring any device that you want and have shared situational awareness,”
William Regli and Kam conducted the research-and-development work that led to Drakontas for CERDEC, the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, within ACIN, the Army’s Applied Communications and Information Networking program.
The ACIN connection led the company to set up shop in the ACIN Camden Technology Center, an incubator for defense-focused businesses that is located in Camden and run by Drexel for the Army. It still has an office there, but its headquarters is in Glenside.
In 2007, Drakontas won a $3.6 million contract from the Department of Justice to lead a Communications Technology Center of Excellence in the department’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system. That led to it working with law-enforcement agencies throughout the country to identify, evaluate and deliver new communications platforms.
The company also has received funding from the U.S. Defense and Transportation Departments to research and develop a wide range of software tools.
In 2010, Drakontas launched its second product, LABFx, which helps promote collaboration between investigators, prosecutors and crime analysts. Also that year, it landed York County’s quick-response team as a DragonForce customer. It added Gloucester County’s Department of Emergency Management as a customer a year later.
Drakontas also has a few equipment makers and systems integrators that sell its software under their own names as part of their own product-and-service offerings to law-enforcement agencies.
To help it give DragonForce the features that the software’s users want, Drakontas sends its employees out in the field with them.
“One of our bedrock principles is that you have to live with the customer to try to understand his or her use case,” Sim said.
Although Drakontas is small, some of its competitors in the mobile collaboration space are not.
For example, San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc.’s collaboration software, Adobe Connect, has been on the market for a little more than nine years, according to Peter Ryce, the evangelist for it.
Adobe hosts the software for some customers and sells it to others, which deploy it behind their firewalls. More than 10 percent of the users accessing the Adobe-hosted version of the software are doing so from mobile devices, up from 1 percent a year ago, Ryce said.
One of the customers that hosts Adobe Connect itself is the Defense Department’s information-technology arm, the Defense Information Systems Agency.
Other security customers of the software include the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida and the Bainbridge Island Police Department in Washington.
Customers of Adobe Connect can add capabilities to the software and some have added mapping, Ryce said.
For example, the State Department added a capability that shows the location of everyone attending a meeting through Adobe Connect so that the department can calculate how far each attendee is from the meeting’s hosts and determine how much it saved in air fare and carbon emissions by having the meeting online.
Over the years, Drakontas’ fortunes have waxed and waned.
In 2010, it was the 467th fastest-growing company on the Inc. 5,000, a list of companies ranked by Inc. magazine according to their revenue growth over the preceding three years. According to Inc., it employed 19 and had revenue of $3.3 million in 2009, up from $444,771 in 2006.
That growth, however, was fueled by the Justice Department contract the company won in 2007 and when that ended in 2010, Drakontas cut back.
Last year, Brian Regli said, it had revenue of $1.5 million and posted a small loss due to the R&D work required to make DragonForce run on mobile operating systems.
Drakontas hopes to make that work pay off soon.
The company plans to exhibit at a show being held in Philadelphia next month by ASIS International, an Arlington, Va.-based organization for security professionals that has 38,000 members. It thinks DragonForce will be well received.
“The law-enforcement professional has been trained by the iPhone, iPad, Google, Facebook and Twitter to have instant access to information and instant access to his friends and colleagues,” Sim said.
“DragonForce is a mission-critical version of those capabilities.”